Baby Steps

I’ve made mention here and there in some posts and touched on some of my own personal fear issues + riding, and how it’s something I’ve really battled since the very beginning of my riding days. I think it’s a cyclical thing, generally ushered in by “something bad” happening (usually a parting of the ways with the horse), and then fading away as “nothing bad” happens for a while.

As much as I would dearly love to just completely vanquish this fear and have it completely go away, I don’t know if that will ever happen…I don’t think it’s in my psychological makeup to be that ballsy and fearless about anything.

But at the same time, I’m also tired of being so careful and cautious that I’m letting that fear control me. This particular cycle seems particularly deep-seated and insidious, and I’ve had enough.

Apparently Mimi had enough, too, last weekend, when she mutinied on yet another session of nice “safe” arena work with some very clear and pointed body language that said “I’m over this.” Once we exited the arena, she took matters into her own hooves and marched us straight down the driveway to the property gate and stood there until I reached over and unlatched the gate, which she promptly shoved open, walked through, and then nudged closed again.

So riding out around the neighborhood at any place I’ve boarded at has never been my favorite thing to do in life. Some early on bad experiences such as parting ways with the pony and going skidding across the pavement left an impression (and ruined my favorite shirt) that’s been hard to shake, and I have a hard time relaxing in that setting. Give me real trail any day.

But around the neighborhood is the most feasible option right now…and what better way to start tackling the fear cycle currently set to “on” than something that historically makes me uncomfortable?


Overall, the roads are pretty quiet around the barn, and most of them have wide dirt shoulders with lots of room to move over, and 95% of the drivers are polite and courteous. (And for the other 5%? Well, the pony isn’t phased by traffic and vehicles, fortunately.)

Last Sunday was particularly quiet. It was still early, and the skies were overcast, with slightly-lower-than-normal temperatures. With traffic non-existent, it was the perfect opportunity to move out a little bit — Mimi is far less prone to “look” at stuff when we’re trotting along. Only at one point, she got it in her head that she needed to practice to be a Top Ten Tevis horse, a la “cantering through the streets of Foresthill,” and started cantering when I wouldn’t let her power trot.

Ummmm…okay, then. Guess there’s a reason I put boots on her.

We didn’t go far — all of a couple of miles — but as the post title suggests, baby steps. Even those couple of miles served as a confidence booster.


And today, I was willing to try it again. We didn’t even look at the arena…just went jogging in-hand straight down the driveway, mounted up outside the gate, and struck out down the street…where we made it all of 100 yards before she had to dramatically startle-and-spook-in-place because…horses in the pasture trotted over to the fence.


Actually, points to me because all I did was laugh. I did not turn into a clutching monkey, I did not get all control-freak rein-grabby, I did not get scared. I called her a couple of names, tapped her with my heels, and moved on down the street.

We did some nice, purposeful trotting down the street, explored a aside street we hadn’t been on in a while, chased a vulture and its precious roadkill prize, and worked on the pony power-walk.


vulture + roadkill in the distance


do we care about things like storm drains and flowing irrigation canals? nope. just other horses/animals.

Last weekend, I had also pulled out my old Big Horn saddle. It started life as our gymkhana/barrel saddle, then migrated over to be our initial trail saddle. After one too many “ribs meet saddle horn” incidents, I sawed off the horn, wrapped the pommel in leather, and led a much happier existence when it came to climbing hills.

Funny thing, though…I’ve never loved this saddle. I always felt like the twist was uncomfortably wide for me…never mind we managed around 200 competition miles, between NATRC and LD endurance rides, plus upteen training miles…and it’s never made Mimi sore. I was never brave enough to try a 50 in it, despite messing with things like swapping out the original fenders for more flexible biothane ones, and trying to make it as comfortable as possible for me.

But it’s also the saddle that lives down at the barn. Since the tack room is a large metal box, it gets ridiculously hot in there, and I don’t feel like storing my really nice leather saddles in that. I’m also out of room for any more saddle storage at the house, so it’s the Big Horn’s luck that it gets to live down at the barn as my “spare” saddle for when I don’t feel like toting one of the others back and forth.

But it’s also the saddle that has never done me wrong. In all the years I’ve owned it…my butt has stayed Velcro’d to it. And right now, I could use that little bit of mental confidence.

So last week, the Big Horn got pressed back into service…with my knees reminding me the whole time of how much I hate the regular Western fenders, and Mimi not loving the Western cinch set-up. A bit of garage rummaging, plus a quick blitz through Riding Warehouse, and this weekend, the Big Horn got another makeover:


Biothane English billets to replace the standard Western cinch set-up, which allows me to use one of her preferred mohair girths, and fenders replaced with thin, flexible Zilco English leathers covered in sheepskin fleeces were the two big changes I made. I need to remember to bring one of my fleece seat covers, though, since that seat is not particularly cushy.

Interesting to note: the twist no longer feels as wide as it used to. Theorizing that the last time I spent a significant amount of time in this saddle, I weighed about 50 pounds more than I do now. In dropping the weight, I also dropped inches…all around…so it’s entirely possible that losing a bit of the thigh spread has given me more room to more comfortably sit in the saddle.

Just changing the fenders out made for a much more comfortable ride today, and I found myself actually enjoying riding in that saddle. Yet I don’t feel too guilty leaving it down at the barn, so that’s one less thing I have to lug back and forth.


snoozy girl

And for another “go figure” moment: turns out Mimi loves the Myler pelham with the reins set on the lower curb setting. She’s super-soft, responsive, doesn’t fight against it at all, and didn’t protest in the slightest when I asked that she not jig home when vehicles were passing us. Okay, then. Didn’t think a pelham versus kimberwick would be that big of a difference, but apparently in Pony World…it is.


And finally, if there’s another equine on this planet that makes as much of a mess of their electrolytes as this one…I have yet to meet them. Pretty sure she got maybe 40% of the dose, and the rest ended up on her face, her legs, the ground, my hands, my hair (euw), the barn dog, the barn chickens…you get the idea.

So that’s two productive weekends. Maybe not productive in the traditional sense of “look at all the miles we rode”, etc…but productive for me, with where I’m at in life right now and some of the things I have to address. This isn’t going to happen with leaps and bounds or overnight progress…but proactively taking even baby steps in the right direction is still better than sitting around just hoping something changes on its own.

It’s funny…when I got her, Mimi was the pony I needed for me at the time…and 20 years later, she’s still being the pony I need for me right now. I am so, so fortunate to have gotten my Heart Horse right off the bat, and to have her be able to slide into whatever role I’ve needed at whatever time. She is truly my once in a lifetime horse, with a spot in my heart that is permanently hers.

9 thoughts on “Baby Steps

  1. I loved this! And I hear ya: this is exactly how I was when I finally got sick of the arena 3 years ago and started riding almost exclusively on trail. I was terrified initially, but the more “nothing happened”, the safer I felt on longer and longer rides. I thing we all go through this when trying something new to us or that we haven’t done in a while…I do “regress” mentally when we haven’t hit the trail for a period of time. I don’t doubt it you’ll feel more and more confident on these new road rides! Cheers to continued miles on your Go Pony! <3

    • Thanks, Saiph! It’s the “haven’t done this in a while” aspect — haven’t been able to get in nearly the amount of riding time I thrive on, due to life circumstances, and the less of it I do, the easier it is to not do, as I start losing confidence and questioning my abilities.

  2. Nice post! I hear you on the fear and baby steps. Never completely gone but good rides go a long ways towards me not sitting there angsting about what ifs.

  3. Glad you had a good ride. Keep up the good work! I had a bad experience myself when riding next to the road and I’m afraid my current horse isn’t too fond of vehicles either (when he’s sound which isn’t very often these days) so I haven’t done much riding on roads but it’s something I do need to work on.

  4. Progress is progress. I like how she took you out on the roads, like screw this arena nonsense. Pretty sure mine would like to do the same. You’re lucky most of your local drivers are good. I’d say our split is more like 40% well-behaved and 60% raging maniacs/idiots.

    • She’s definitely opinionated. ;) There are a few roads around the barn area I won’t ride next to — too full of said idiots with no regard to the speed limit, or jackasses that like to play “let’s spook the horsie” games — but for the most part, a good number of the streets are quiet and residential, in an area filled with horse properties.

  5. Don’tcha just love the crossfire straps from Riding Warehouse? I’ve got them on my Abetta endurance saddle (the 1″ ones, a friend is borrowing the 1.5″ set, and I’m having to use Mitch’s “fat” girth which is his long shaped mohair girth with the 1″ buckles so it’s just as well)

Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcome!

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